Whether you’ve seen it first in a cartoon or film, or had the opportunity to grow up with one in the house, you’re probably aware of some of the cuckoo clock’s history and position as a cultural icon in Germany.
This authentic August Schwer cuckoo clock is intended for folks with deep pockets, especially those who value artful pieces and are not afraid to splash out to get them. Of course, as it is a Schwer, it holds the VDS certificate, which confirms its authenticity.
The clock measures some 59 x 65 x 30 cm, which isn’t as large as cuckoo clocks can get, but it is a bit of a positioning problem. You’ll want it on the wall, obviously, about head-high (so you can see all the detail), just make sure you anchor it well with screws and studs.
As the astute readers may’ve already guessed, the 8-day Mill House in the Gutach Valley received the Cuckoo Clock of the Year award for 2011, which confirms beyond doubt its authenticity and its ability to capture the true essence of the Black Forest cuckoo clocks. It plays two melodies, The Happy Wanderer and Edelweiss, alternating them on the hour.
Right above them, there’s the door for the cuckoo, and behind those sits a beautifully carved and realistically painted bird. All the figurines are made of wood and hand-painted, and the carvings are exquisitely deep. Of course, the 5-year warranty is nothing to sneer at, either.
The only thing that mars the overall impression is the fact that the clock has a manual shut-off, which is pretty uncommon on an 8-day movement piece, but other than that, it’s absolutely stunning.
Just as the tin reads, this piece is an 8-day movement cuckoo clock by Adolf Herr, representing the traditional Black Forest hunting scene. Of course, it should go without saying that the clock bears the VDS certificate, recognizing it as an authentic Black Forest cuckoo clock.
It’s the ideal thing for your hunting lodge, or as a centrepiece for your trophy room – it’ll really tie the room together. Sadly, the clock doesn’t come with a blue ribbon attached, but it’s more than deserving of one. It does, however, come with a nice 2-year warranty, which should help put the mind at ease. At least it’s got time on its side.
This 8-day movement clock has a rich, vibrant colour, and a nicely balanced composition that guides your eyes effortlessly from the leaf-like pendulum and pine cone shaped weights, over the leafy decorations and the face to the crossed rifles and a stag’s head at the top. The dial marked with Roman numerals is framed by a horn held by a rabbit and what appears to be a cuckoo, as if it were a heraldic device, and completely in tone with the rest of the clock.
There’s not much not to like about it, apart from limited quantities (wink wink nudge nudge).
Incidently, if you missed the video earlier – you can watch this clock be made right here.
This obviously isn’t a traditional cuckoo clock, not by a long shot (even the name says so), so it’s probably not for those who’d want a classic feel. It has a colour pattern (or a distinct lack of) that would probably make it feel at home on a plain, white wall.
If you liked Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, you’ll probably like this cuckoo clock. It hasn’t been awarded anything yet (and it somehow feels it won’t get the VDS Cuckoo Clock of the Year any time soon), but then again, it might be just personal preferences coming to surface.
The 8-day movement clock does have an intriguing appearance, that much is evident. It’s a white rhombus, lacking any numerals, with black hands, black pendulum and weights, black shut-off switch, black cuckoo door, and a bright, vivid red cuckoo bird.
In a way, it does have that vibrant quality that unsettles the eye and makes the brain work in overdrive, thanks to the quite potent colour combo.
For those of you not in the know, white, black and red colours are aposematic, which translates into everyday English as warning, and our minds are hardwired to have a deep rooted reaction to this combination (think coral snakes).
We definitely like the unusualness of this design, and the courage to go forward with its production.
However, the distinct lack of numerals, Roman or otherwise, is slightly unnerving. On the flipside, the cuckoo does call out every half hour, and then calls out the number of the hours on the full hour.
The Happiest of Times is pretty much what it reads on the tin – a children’s cuckoo clock with about 40 2D characters crowding in Cinderella’s castle, having a reunion. It’s a nice piece to get your kids interested in cuckoo clocks (but keep in mind it’s not a toy), or to get as a collectable.
The clock hasn’t got any awards, and it doesn’t have the VDS certificate, let alone an award. Of course, the clock is officially licenced by Disney, and you can get it exclusively from The Bradford Exchange, and nowhere else.
Counting the Mickey and Minnie resin figurines, there are 42 Disney heroes in the castle – Donald and Goofy are there, naturally, as well as Pluto. Cinderella, Snow White, Pocahontas and Ariel are having a laugh with Pinocchio and the seven dwarfs, while Peter Pan, Tinkerbell, Dumbo, Aladdin and Princess Jasmine fly over.
Speaking of Tinkerbell, she also stands in for the cuckoo to sound the hours, accompanied by the twinkling of her magic wand, so, technically, this isn’t a cuckoo clock after all. Still, at least the casing is wood, and it does come with pine cone weights and brass-like pendulum (resin), so it balances out, somewhat.
We can’t shake off the feeling that, no matter how exquisitely done or well thought out, this clock is just a quick money-grabber, not the first nor the last from Disney.
Having said that it makes for a perfect children cuckoo clock.
This piece by August Schwer is perfect for anyone who enjoys waterwheels. Of course, it should go without saying that the clock has the VDS certificate of authenticity, which is definitely a big plus, and certainly puts the mind at ease. It’s style allows it to be welcome in any part of your house, though you should definitely consider putting it on a white wall to complement its deep brown colour.
It’s either that, or a plank walls and ceilings room, with plenty of natural light. Sadly, the clock hasn’t received any awards yet, but that doesn’t subtract from its appeal in any way, shape or form.
The figurines aren’t particularly detailed, which is a bit of a gripe, but they do have some sort of naiveté, which makes them lovable in a way entirely their own. What we did like is the amazingly realistic cuckoo, carved and hand-painted to achieve maximum effect, and, boy, does it work! It calls every half-hour, and calls the number of hours on the full hour.
The Nightmare Before Christmas kids cuckoo clock is obviously targeted at Tim Burton’s fans, and will definitely make a nice addition to any collection. Obviously, it’s not a genuine Black Forest cuckoo clock, so no VDS certificate and no awards, but it does follow the general guidelines.
It’s somewhat large (about 53 cm), so you should make sure to anchor it securely if you mean to keep it on the wall.
We simply love how Disney and The Bradford Exchange managed to stay true to the spooky atmosphere of this classic Tim Burton piece, what with all the music, motion and lighting. Granted, this is in no way a traditional kids cuckoo clock, seeing how Zero stands in for the cuckoo, popping in and out through the door atop the Town Hall as This Is Halloween plays, while Jack Skellington and Sally stand in front of it.
Lock’s standing in front of them, slightly lower, looking on Shock and Barrel swinging on the decorative pine cone weight. This part of the piece is rounded off by the brass-toned pendulum with the Halloween Town Spiral Hill painted on it.
The craftsmanship and hand-painted figurines are definitely of the highest quality, and the quartz movement is definitely up to scratch.
However, this is not a traditional cuckoo clock, and it’s targeted at a very specific audience, so it may not be all to popular among a wider crowd. And besides, there’s always that nagging voice in the back of the head warning it’s just another Disney’s attempt to squeeze more money from the fans.
Authentic Black Forest Cuckoo Clock Quartz-movement Chalet-Style by Trenkle Uhren(Best Value For Money)
Pretty much as the name suggests, this Trenkle Uhren piece is an authentic Schwarzwald chalet-style cuckoo clock, reviewed and certified by the VDS. Granted, the company is still “a new kid on the block”, as it were, but they’ve acquitted themselves admirably for the 30-odd years they’ve been operating out of Simonswald.
The clock itself, then, is not only a nice choice for folks who prefer chalets, but also a way to endorse a new player in the game (which should, hopefully, result in better clocks overall).
It’s a fairly small piece (25 cm), which some might not like, but we find simply adorable. It’s nice to have a big, elaborate piece, but having a small, unobtrusive, yet exquisitely crafted cuckoo clock is as equally fulfilling, if not more so. It’s a nice gift, if nothing else. We were particularly thrilled by the cuckoo itself, as well as the door through which it pops open to sound the hours.
Moreover, you can distinctly hear an echo and the sound of rushing water accompanying the calls – it’s a real balm for the senses. The face of the clock is marked with Roman numerals, as per tradition, and so skilfully integrated into the chalet’s façade that you can’t really tell where the clock ends and the house begins.
With a slight stretch of imagination, you could put yourself in the Black Forest, with musicians playing in front of the chalet. Sadly, it’s not a musical clock (note the two weights rather than three), which is hardly surprising, considering its dimensions.
There’s really nothing to not like about the clock, apart from limited quantities.
Much like its mechanical counterpart, the quartz cuckoo clock by Trenkle Uhren is an exercise in moderation. Granted, the clock doesn’t have a VDS certificate (which is only reserved for mechanical cuckoo clocks), but it does come from a manufacturer that holds the certificate for its mechanical range, which should count for something.
It’s a chalet-style clock with a weather house, and we feel it would really feel at home with folks who frequently have to spend time outside. Just cast a glance towards the weather house before going out, see what the temperature is like, and decide if it’s worth taking an umbrella.
Weather house is definitely the major selling point of this piece. There’s a thermometer on its façade, as well as a light sensor, both in Centigrade and Fahrenheit, with a German man and woman on a swivelling base. When the weather is nice and shiny, the woman will come out of the house, and when it’s cloudy and cold, the man will pop out.
Of course, as you might expect, it does feature an automatic shut off.
The one minor gripe we’d have is with the thermometer, as it really could’ve been bigger, or at the very least, feature a narrower range.
This quartz movement piece by Trenkle Uhren pays homage to the beloved Emmental region in Switzerland, known for its cheese, idyllic farms, wooden bridges and stone castles. The clock itself is not a bearer of the VDS certificate, as it is a quartz movement type, not mechanical, but the manufacturer does make mechanical cuckoo clocks that are approved by the association, which counts for something.
It’s a nice souvenir, and a better gift.
We were amazed with how much detail the craftsman managed to fit in what is, essentially, a small cuckoo clock (about 23 x 23 x 15 cm – H x W x D). The eaves are particularly well executed, not to mention the amount of detail that went into carving the window shutters and the cuckoo door.
Speaking of which, the cuckoo is very realistically made, and it even flaps its wings when calling out, which it does on the full hour, accompanied by its own echo and the sound of a stream flowing in the background. The walnut tone of the whole piece is rather soothing, and would not feel out of place in a room with wooden walls and ceiling.
Of course, the pine cone weights and pendulum are purely ornamental, but they do add to the overall appearance and a harmonious
First thing’s first, this is not an authentic Black Forest cuckoo clock, so don’t look for the VDS certificate. That said, this somewhat misnamed Traditional Cuckoo Wall Quartz Clock is definitely a nice decorative piece, and a well thought out present for someone you care about (less than for a friend, but more than a cousin – and, no, that’s not a typo).
In all seriousness, the clock is very well executed, and it is definitely a budget-happy choice. It’s a classic Emmental chalet-style, so in that sense it is traditional, and would look nice in a warm-toned room (think off white, eggshell, or even brown).
The clock measures 28 x 22 x 13 (H x W x D), which we found quite nice for smaller rooms – it doesn’t take up much space and steal the limelight from other decorations, but it definitely makes its presence known. This rings particularly true when the cuckoo calls on the full hour. The leaf carvings do have some depth, but it’s the rich colour that draws the eye the most.
We also liked the easily legible white Roman numerals on its dial, though the similarly white hands seem sort of out of place (still, just a matter of personal preference). Interestingly enough, even though the pine cone weights and the pendulum serve no purpose (seeing as the clock is powered by 3 C-cell batteries), the pendulum is fully working, which is a nice touch.
The only thing we’d fault this cuckoo clock is the name, as it does seem somewhat misleading, given the fact it’s neither mechanical, nor made in the Black Forest. It does feature the traditional Swiss cuckoo clock house style, but that’s about it. Other than that, it’s all but perfect.
But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves – let’s talk about how cuckoo clocks first came about and why they are so intricately tied to Germany.
How Did Cuckoo Clocks Come About?
The first piece of hard evidence we have about cuckoo clocks comes from the pen of one Philipp Hainhofer, a nobleman from Augsburg, who described
a cuckoo clock belonging to August von Sachsen, the Prince Elector of Saxony. That was in 1629. Unfortunately, we have no idea what happened to that clock, nor a host of other historic pieces.
Later, in 1650, a German polymath by the name of Athanasius Kircher wrote about a mechanical organ with various different automata, including a cuckoo, in his treatise on music (Musurgia Universalis). The bird would, apparently, flap its wings and open its beak, while two pipes (tuned to a major or minor third) mimic the calling. This, incidentally, is the first time someone’s described such mechanism, both in words and in picture.
By Domenico Martinelli’s Horology Elementari (1669), the mechanism is well understood and described, and every clockmaker or mechanic with basic grasp on Latin would’ve been able to recreate it.
We don’t actually know who made the first clock in the Black Forest, let alone who made the first clock in history, but we do know that the earliest designs featured hand-painted shields, decorated with paper, and that the iconic design we recognize today is not as late-coming as people might think. Be that as it may, there are two main versions of the story.
According to one, coming from the pen of Father Franz Steyrer in 1796, there were two clockmakers from Furtwangen. These two gentlemen bought a wooden cuckoo clock from a Bohemian merchant, reverse-engineered it, it then quickly caught on.
According to the other version, as written by the priest Markus Fidelis Jäck in 1830, we know exactly when, where and who. The first clockmaker, father Jäck claims, was one Franz Anton Ketterer from Schöenwald im Schwarzwald (Beautiful Forest, a village in the Black Forest), who reportedly got the idea how to make the mechanism to mimic the cuckoo call from observing the church organ.
Neither of the two stories can be corroborated with hard evidence, but historians favour the former, while the manufacturers from the Black Forest seem to favour the latter, for obvious reasons.
Even though pretty much every historian agrees that cuckoo clocks originated outside of the region of Schwarzwald (Black Forest), in what is today the state of Baden-Wurttemberg, it was here that the device was popularized and, dare we say, brought to perfection. It was there, in all likelihood, that the mechanism for making the cuckoo call (which we still see today) came to being.
The bottom line is that, starting somewhere from the middle of the 18th century, the region and the clock became inextricably linked, so much so that it remains today a German cultural icon and one of the most common souvenirs people bring back from Germany, Austria or Switzerland. In a way, you could think of it as the Champagne of clocks.
What Makes a Traditional Cuckoo Clock?
What we mean by traditional cuckoo clock is simply a wooden case (always wooden, and always linden), decorated with all sorts of carvings, more often than not of animals and plants (usually just leaves). There’s also an automaton, the eponymous cuckoo bird, which appears through a tiny door when the clock is striking, and moves up and down, as if bowing.
Traditionally, again, the bird won’t open its beak or flap its wings. Its call is mimicked by puffs of air sent by a pair of bellows sitting underneath a pair of pipes (gedeckt).
Most of the traditional clocks will be weight-driven (iron cast into a pine cone shape), though some will be spring-driven, and there are two types based on how often you need to rewind them – 1-day (30-hour) and 8-day movement. (For those of you not in the know, we’ll explain what movement is shortly).
There are also musical cuckoo clocks, which incorporate many other figurines besides the traditional cuckoo bird (though none come without it), such as wood cutters, beer drinkers, hunters, stags, waterwheels, little elves, Santa, cartoon characters or whatever else you can think of.
Alternatively, some clocks that depict a beer garden will play Trink, Brüderlein, Trink (Drink, Brothers, Drink) and/or In München Steht Ein Hofbräuhaus (There’s A Brewery in Munich), which are there to underline the Bavarian style of these clocks.
What Are the Differences Between German Cuckoo Clocks VS Swiss Cuckoo Clocks?
Some might speak about the difference between German cuckoo clocks and Swiss cuckoo clocks, others might use the distinction between the traditional and chalet types. Whichever way you go about it, it’ actually just discussing the way casings are made, not the mechanisms.
When we say traditional in this context, we mean the styles actually originating from the Black Forest, such as the Rahmenuhr (clock within a picture frame, usually with a Black Forest-themed painting above), the Biedermeier, Bahnhäusle (gatekeeper-house), or the Bahnhäusleuhr (railroad house clock), the most popular style ever, and still the most manufactured type.
There are three types, one of which has its own subtypes: the Black Forest Chalet, the Bavarian Chalet and the Swiss Chalet, which in turn can be either Brienz or Emmental Valley.
Of course, this will also often incorporate a music box with usually two melodies that alternate on full hours, as well as a host of other figurines besides the cuckoo – waterwheels turning, beer drinkers drinking, woodcutters cutting wood, couples dancing, or any other thematic piece you can think of.
What Are the Differences Between Modern And Traditional Cuckoo Clocks?
The differences between traditional and modern cuckoo clocks can be summed up in the following dichotomy – mechanical vs. quartz. You see, while traditional cuckoo clocks can be either weight (likely) or spring-driven (not so likely), modern cuckoo clocks are battery-driven. They are, in a sense, not quite the real deal, but they are far more affordable than their mechanical counterparts. There are, of course, other, more poignant differences.
In the quartz battery powered clocks, unlike traditional, the bird flaps its wings and opens the beak while it sings. There’s no gong wire chime, and the doors open only at full hours, seeing as the movement is regulated not by gravity, but rather by electromagnetic pulses.
Also, there are no traditional pipes, and the call is instead just a digital recording of an actual cuckoo in the forest (along with the echo). It’s often accompanied by the sound of rushing water, or some other birds chirping away in the background.
On a similar note, musical quartz clocks, obviously, have no music box, but rather digital recordings of various popular tunes from German folklore.
Who Are the Most Prominent Manufacturers?
There are many manufacturers in the Black Forest region alone, and even more around the world, but the only certified by the VDS (Black Forest Clock Association) are from here. Think of it as Champagne of clocks, though not as official and protective. Some of the biggest names you might hear are:
- Anton Schneider;
- August Schwer;
- Hubert Herr;
- Rombach and Haas, also known as Romba.
What Awards For Cuckoo Clocks Should I Look Out For?
Starting with 2001, the VDS (Verein die Schwarzwalduhr, or Black Forest Clock Association) has annually presented the Cuckoo Clock of the Year award to those manufacturers that best embody the art and standards of an authentic Black Forest clock.
The award is to woodworkers and clockmakers what the Grammys are to singers and Oscars are to actors. Of course, once a clock is named the Clock of the Year, its price will soar to match the status, so if you really want an award-winning clock, you’d better be ready to pay for it.
How Are Cuckoo Clocks Made?
First and foremost, it’s important to note that cuckoo clocks are always handmade, and always made of linden wood. Fun info – used to be that the woodcarver and clockmaker lived in the same village. While the former would be working on the case, the latter would be pouring and assembling the inner workings of the clock, and each component would be unique.
Nowadays, though, manufacturers usually buy remade components, which are then assembled and fitted within the case (by hand). In a way, there are only two steps in quality control – the selfsame process of making and a final check before shipping out.
It doesn’t always take the same amount of time, but it’s safe to say it’s not short. Depending on how deep and intricate the carvings need to be, it may be even longer. This is, of course, reflected in the price. You can see a clock being made here:
What Type of Mechanical Engineering Is Required To Make It Work?
Painting with a broad brush, we can explain the engineering behind the cuckoo clocks by making a distinction between the mechanical movement and quartz movement.
With mechanical movement clocks, everything is a part of a mechanism that relies on the pendulum swinging to and fro, each swing being driven by the weights descending down (the pine cone shaped things underneath each clock). This causes the gears to turn and is, incidentally, responsible for the distinctive tick-tack sound you may remember.
These will hang underneath the clock, obviously and descend slowly down, the rate depending upon which movement you have. Once they reach the ground, you know it’s time to rewind the clock. For the 1-day movement, you’ll have to do it, you guessed it, daily, whereas for the 8-day, you’ll need to do it weekly. Simply pull the weights back up, and you’re done.
The quartz mechanical movement clocks simply simulate the end results of the traditional design, but not its wherewithal. Instead of the pendulum and weights, the clock is driven by a battery. This design, although not traditional in the strictest of senses, is still appealing, and, more importantly, more budget-happy. Plus, it requires minimal maintenance, which is often its selling point, more so than the price.
What Features You Should Look For
The first thing you’ll want to check out is if the clock has the VDS certificate (Verein die Schwarzwalduhr or Black Forest Clock Association). This is the golden standard of the industry, and undisputed confirmation of quality and authenticity.
The second thing you’ll probably want to decide on is the style. You can go with Germany’s own traditional Black Forest scenery – deep carvings, rich stains, wildlife and foliage, jumping stags, you name it. Alternatively, you might get a chalet with delicately carved details, hand-painted figurines, various automata, and music (optional).
The next important thing you should decide on is the movement you want – it’s not the most glamorous of decisions, but it is an important one. In essence, you have the 8-day movement clocks, which you need to wind once a week, and 1-day (30-hour) clocks, which you’ll need to wind daily. The former are invariably more expensive and of higher quality, and they come with heavier set of weights underneath.
You’ll also have to decide what music you want. Most traditional clocks will play two songs, alternating between the two on the hour (8-day movement) or on the half-hour (1-day movement). More often than not it’ll be Edelweiss and The Happy Wanderer, while the Bavarian-themed chalets will have German drinking songs, usually Drink, Brothers, Drink and There’s A Brewery in Munich. Quartz clocks, however, will most likely have a selection of twelve songs.
This quite nicely ties into your next consideration – the clock animations. Of course you’ll have the bird, it’s not a cuckoo clock without the cuckoo, but think if you want aught else with that – entire casts of characters, bell ringers, wood cutters, hunters, jumping deer, or some thematic pieces, such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Elsa from Frozen, Christmas and Santa’s village, or whatever jingles your jollies.
Another thing you’ll want is the shut-off – you can go either automatic or manual. Keep in mind that 1-day movements usually have manual, and that you’ll rarely ever find a 1-day with automatic shutoff. Conversely, 8-day movements have an auto-switch that shuts off for 10–12 hours a day beginning at 8 PM, and many (though not all) come with this feature. Still, most people say the sounds blend into the surroundings and they simply stop shutting it off after a while.
Finally, decide the budget. This is where many people go wrong, as they decide the budget, and then go shopping. If you really want something, don’t be afraid to splash out (also, don’t be afraid to haggle, although it’s not actually a German cultural norm). Here’s a list of tips to help you out with your budget:
- Awards: Those with awards are more expensive;
- Movement: Those with 1-day movement are less expensive than those with 8-day;
- Music: Musical clocks are pricier than regular ones;
- Shut-off: With, more money, without, less money;
- Automata: The number and quality of pieces may indeed affect the price;
- Size: Yes, it does, and yes, the bigger, the more expensive;
- Carvings: The deeper and more intricate the carvings, the more skill and time, and, consequently, the greater the price;
- Start big, then downsize according to how far you’re willing to go.
What You Should Avoid
Avoid being sold cheap knockoffs, and things made of plastic, in particular. Handle your purchases carefully, and don’t go for the cheapest thing on the shelf. That said, an authentic cuckoo clock can be a bit of an expense for the average person, so it’s a good idea to learn everything you can before going for one.